Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Irish Stew #56…

Monday, December 12th, 2016

[It’s been awhile. I use this potpourri of news when I want to make a lot of mini-op-eds about current affairs—hence the name. Or, if you like, my Irish temper blows, and then I stew. Because I already had a political op-ed set for tomorrow about the healthcare crisis, I decided to pair this with “Monday Words of Wisdom” and clear my writing to-do list a wee bit. Let’s go to it…]


More Saudi duplicity. I’ve often railed against the duplicitous Saudis in this blog. Sometimes I feel like a voice crying in the wilderness. Here’s yet another example of their duplicity: while we’ve been fighting the Taliban, among others, in Afghanistan for years, the Saudis have been playing both sides, but more in support of the Taliban! To quote a recent Times article: “Saudi Arabia is critical [in Afghanistan] because of its unique position in the Afghan conflict: It is on both sides.” Was Machiavelli a Saudi? They represent the primary source for destabilization in the Middle East and are indirectly (if not directly) responsible for countless tortures and murders of innocents. They are NOT our friends.

Taiwan calling. This is one case where government intervention was required—lots of it! During the election, Trump bloviated a lot about his loathing of the People’s Republic of China (like many communist naming inventions, it’s not a republic and certainly doesn’t belong to the people). He took a congratulatory call from the Taiwanese president. Big deal! Irony?  Obama can call a brutal and murdering dictator in Cuba and Trump is criticized for accepting a call from a democratically elected leader?


Cosmological distances…

Thursday, September 15th, 2016

Some excitement was caused recently by the announcement of an E-type exoplanet, Proxima b, a planet orbiting the red dwarf Proxima Centauri in the Alpha Centauri triple-star system (Alpha A is a G-type star like the sun, while B is a K-type star, but both are much brighter than Proxima). That system is about 4.3 light-years from Earth, or 40.14 trillion kilometers. (Conversion lesson: convert to statute miles.) The size of the Milky Way is about 100, 000 light-years, so Proxima is right around the corner. Right? Wrong! Even distances in our galaxy are “huuuuge,” to borrow a word abused by two recent presidential candidates and the SNL comics.

More excitement was caused by the report from scientists at the RATAN-600 radio telescope at Zelenchukskaya in Russia. They detected a strong signal apparently originating in the direction of the G-type star HD 1611595, known to have one warm Neptune-like planet (40-day orbit). This star is 94 light-years away. The Russian report to the SETI committee was made without many details.  The star might have rocky E-type planets too, so many UFO-ET enthusiasts and sci-fi addicts are in a frenzy, spurred on by the meaning of the acronym—“Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence.” While some other Russian scientists wrote the whole thing off as terrestrial interference (covering their butts?), the scientific jury is still out (comments updating this are welcome).  95 light-years is many times 4, of course, but still small in comparison relative to galactic distance markers—4 is a walk to your neighborhood convenience store; 95 is a short car ride to the nearby Dunkin’ Donuts.

Let’s counter some knee-jerk reactions to these reports first. Coincidentally, SETI has a new focus on red dwarf stars. They can live billions of years longer than G-type stars, where SETI’s emphasis has traditionally been, because we know at least one G-type star, ours, has an intelligent civilization (although “intelligent” might be a questionable word to use sometimes). That extra stellar lifespan might allow a red dwarf like Proxima Centauri to be home to an ancient civilization far advanced beyond ours (and actually be intelligent?). The hurdles are enormous, though, for any kind of life in such a system, because livable E-type planets would have to orbit the parent star so closely that they would be tidally locked, one face always turned toward the star. That means life as we know it could only exist in that transition zone between eternal day and eternal night.

The second report is a bit more difficult to put down in this way: an E-type planet could exist farther out from HD 1611595 and have life. Without knowing the details of the signal (I only know it’s strong), one can’t use it to mark the source as being intelligent. If it were narrowband, seemingly coded, and beamed directly at us (how could they know to do that when radio had just been invented on Earth 90 years ago?), you might have something. But consider this: one scientist estimates that ten-to-the-thirtieth (one followed by thirty zeroes) watts would be needed to broadcast this signal if omnidirectional (i.e. not specifically aimed at us), and ten-to-the-fifteenth watts if beamed directly. The first corresponds to a Kardashev Type II civilization, one that harnesses all energy emitted by its sun (Dyson sphere?—that’s physicist Freeman Dyson, not my author-friend Scott Dyson); the second to Type I, a civilization that “only” harnesses all the energy falling on its planet.


Common sense in a nonsensical world…

Tuesday, September 6th, 2016

If your perception about U.S. policies is that they don’t make sense, you are correct—most of the time they don’t. Not necessarily in order of importance, here’s why: First, the courts are stuck in the 19th century because the laws are. Second, American foreign policy is still based on the credo that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Third, the people running everything, the super-rich, don’t give a rat’s ass whether things are done right, as long as they get richer. I could go on, but you get the idea. Sure, problems in the 21st century are complex, but incompetent people and institutional resistance to change for the better make them more so.  My definition of conservative: someone who’s so satisfied with what they have that they don’t want any change. There’s a place for that attitude, but not in the three points I mentioned.

I’ve suffered in my life with both types of judicial systems, English and Roman. In the first, precedents are given weight so that there’s continuity to “justice” (the meaning given to that word could be a fourth problem–just ask the innocent victims of gun violence or those who think Hillary Clinton should be in jail). In the second, the system inherited from the Romans and popular in Latin countries, you can do anything the law doesn’t specifically prohibit (that’s why those countries’ constitutions, if they have one, are so long).  Both are unwieldy. The first practically precludes adapting to changing times, a conservative’s delight. For example, the internet was invented in 1983 (ARPANET) and only assumed something resembling today’s chaos in 1990—let’s give it thirty years. Adding to that the fact that most justices and juries (formed from users, not techies) have no tech background at all, you can see that the justice system can’t possibly make informed decisions about scientific and technical issues most of the time.

Roman justice has a similar problem. Its laws tend to be more “written in stone,” so new science and technologies occur without any control whatsoever. It’s impossible to prohibit something when it hasn’t even been invented yet, and when it is, it might be too late to prohibit it. Progress occurs so fast nowadays that neither judicial system can keep up. Unscrupulous people will take advantage of that, human nature being what it is. Common sense tells me that technical regulatory boards are called for to keep pace with the progresses in science and technology—groups of high-tech “philosopher kings” in the sense of Plato, incorruptible individuals serving limited terms. Again, given human nature, that word “incorruptible” is key. Do such individuals exist? But there’s no doubt the current system is broken and must be fixed.


Reasonable people thinking unreasonably…

Thursday, July 28th, 2016

If you think the world is going mad, it is. That’s another way of saying people are crazy. The recent Pokemon Go craze is just the tip of the iceberg. Like that minions game on the iPhone, I thought Pokemon Go was harmless until people started walking in front of trucks, getting robbed by thieves or molested by perverts, and in general looking like actors auditioning for The Walking Dead. Not so harmless are some of the other things occurring as reasonable people think unreasonably or believe things not based on fact.

Nancy Reagan believed in astrology; many people do. They believe the zodiac signs determine their personal fates; Nancy Reagan used them to advise Ronnie about global affairs! People hold similar beliefs about Tarot cards, séances, and palm readings. Some people would never own a black cat or walk under a ladder. All these superstitious beliefs have zero science behind them. It is amazing that our science and technology have come this far with all these nuts around. Even so-called scientists can believe really stupid things. It’s embarrassing. Despite the pics from ISS and imaging satellites, there are still people who think that the Earth is flat and the center of the Universe. And I’m talking about otherwise sensible people, not primitive tribe members in Africa, Australia, or South America.


Irish Stew #55…

Tuesday, July 19th, 2016


Saudi duplicity. The Kingdom has an agenda. They try to pretend they’re friends, but they push a 6th century version of Islam just as much as ISIS. Most of the al Qaeda murderers who plotted 9/11 were Saudi, and the Saudi government helped them, not to mention the training in the Saudi’s religious schools that teaches young men to hate the West. They are also trying to radicalize Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo and those in the old Islamic USSR countries. Their agenda is clear: time travel back to that 6th century caliphate. And you thought ISIS was the problem?

This last weekend, the government finally released the full 28 pages of the 9/11 report originally deemed TOP SECRET because they embarrassed our “Saudi friends” (with friends like that, who needs enemies?). I downloaded a copy and will peruse it in detail. At first glance, it seems nebulous and full of doublespeak, par for the course when it comes to national security. Here’s a quote from the Times article describing it: “Subsequent investigations…pursued the leads described…and found that many had no basis in fact.” Pox on the Times for bad reporting. What investigations? Do we have access? Many, but some did. Which ones? Really bad reporting. And people wonder why we have conspiracy theories! It’s only paranoia if it’s…you finish the phrase.

BREXIT and the new PM. Looks like the Brits have to live with their choices. I found it amusing the story about a town that had voted Labour for many decades voting to leave the EU in spite of that party’s pleas. Both Sanders and Trump here in the U.S. tapped into similar sentiments, but Hillary is still supporting TPP because Wall Street does.

I don’t expect the new PM to last long, although both Labour and Conservative parties should be walking the halls of Parliament like Lady Macbeth—they have blood on their hands, but Macbeth has already died. “Double, double, toil and trouble, pot boil and cauldron bubble….” British politics is more like a pressure cooker now.


Educating the world…

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016

Last Friday I reviewed the film The Man Who Knew Infinity about English mathematician Hardy’s “discovery” of the great Indian number theory genius Ramanujan.  The movie is based on the book with the same title by Robert Kanigel.  I read Hardy’s A Mathematician’s Apology decades ago, so the release of the film stirred some old memories, including some about importing scientists.  The U.S. does it all the time; so do more industrialized countries in the E.U.; the U.K. does it to all the Commonwealth countries.  And industrialized nations steal scientists from all over the world, especially the Third World.  There are often more ads for physics positions in China than in the U.S. in Physics Today.  Mr. Obama spoke to the “brain drain” while in Vietnam.

It’s not clear that Britain received any great benefit from Ramanujan’s country-hopping.  Trinity College benefitted in prestige, I suppose, but no great jump in industrial or technological advantage occurred.  His work isn’t exactly esoteric, though.  Number theory is tightly coupled with modern day encryption techniques, and Ramanujan loved his prime numbers.  And a written epilogue at the end of the film mentions the relationship of some unusual Ramanujan-discovered functions to the theory of black holes (see the review).  Other “stolen scientists” make more of a difference in producing society’s paradigm shifts.  In the U.S., our space effort received a kick in the butt from von Braun and other Nazi rocket scientists we stole.  Italian physicist Fermi was a key person in the Manhattan project.


Thinking like ETs…

Wednesday, May 11th, 2016

As more and more planets are discovered, some in their star’s E-zone (Earth-like conditions stretched a little, but always with liquid water), it becomes almost a certainty that life exists “out there.”  Earth isn’t the center of the Universe, it might not be all that special, and human beings better start giving any gods they’ve created a little more credit, or create new ones with a more universal outlook.  That said, what about intelligent life?

Fermi’s paradox, summarized succinctly by “Where are they?”, isn’t really a paradox.  If you assume the ETs are subject to our same physical laws—in other words, they’re limited by the speed of light and the immense distance even to nearby stars—they can’t visit us anymore than we can visit them.  Many ET civilizations might have come and gone.  Their people might have wondered if there’s someone “out there,” or they didn’t give an ET rat’s ass—maybe they were so xenophobic they didn’t want to meet anyone else, or their planet was shrouded by thick fog and they didn’t even know anything outside the atmosphere existed.  Intelligent life just might not be that intelligent.

Or, it might be a lot more intelligent and technically more advanced than we are, pushing beyond the limitations of physical laws as we currently understand them.  In my “Chaos Chronicles Trilogy” (CCT), I postulate some colonization in near Earth-space via trips lasting hundreds of years, followed by an ET-Human collaboration that figures out to hop around the multiverses, a type of faster-than-light travel that doesn’t make old Einstein turn over in his grave.


Irish Stew #54…

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016


Applaud those Kurds!  They have become an effective fighting force against ISIS.  They’re knocking on the door of Mosul.  OK, ISIS leaked through their forward lines, a Navy SEAL consultant died, but that’s no cause for hand wringing.  They’re showing Sunni and Shi’ite Iraqis what it means to soldier on.  Joe Biden’s solution—divide it into three states, Kurdish, Shi’ite, and Sunni—is still the best one for Iraq, and the Kurds deserve to be rewarded well.  To hell with Turkey and their plans to exterminate the Kurds.

Corrupt Iraqi politicians.  That’s what the invasion of the Green Zone was about.  The Iraqi politicos, mostly Shi’ite, are also inept.  But given that Shi’ites are in power, why were the protestors Sadr’s people?  Sects within sects within sects, I guess.  We really stepped in it when we invaded Iraq.  The birth of ISIS, an Iraqi government that can’t govern, and an army that can’t fight (except for the Kurds) is George Bush’s legacy for modern Iraq and the world.  And whomever we elect for president in the U.S. is only going to make it worse!  We reap what we sow.

Words, words.  The boy despot in North Korea continues to starve his people and brandish his toy weapons, accompanying that with fanfare and rants against South Korea and the West.  What’s new?  A missile launch from a submarine, that’s what!  OK, it’s a pathetic retrofit with zero capability right now, but did you know that spoiled brat had submarines?  A launch toward the West Coast of the U.S. from an offshore sub in territorial waters would be from a much shorter distance than a launch from NK.  We can’t laugh at this pathetic narcissist for too much longer.  He might be a stupid and spoiled megalomaniac, but he herds scientists who are smart and aim to please this psychotic leader.


Irish Stew #53…

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016

[Regular readers of this blog know the stew is a collection of mini-op-eds expressing my opinions about current news items.  Don’t like the opinions?  Say so in a comment…or write your own blog!  The more the merrier.]

International.  So Barack Obama’s all sentimental about his relationship with Angela Merkel?  You’d think she’d have enough of sentimental U.S. presidents.  Germany, the juggernaut of the E.U., is having problems.  Merkel’s good intentions in receiving refugees from the Middle East has generated a lot of blowback and encouraged the fascist right-wingers (why do Germans have this tendency?).  She just fired her head security man.  So, maybe Obama is just doing a gentleman’s good deed by helping the old lady safely get across the protest parades on Ku’Damm.

I’ve always had a problem with Germany in particular and Europe in general.  Whatever economic success they’ve enjoyed, it got a head start with the Marshall Plan (lose a war to the U.S. to build an economic powerhouse is the plot of The Mouse That Roared, and it’s so a propos—both Germany and Japan benefitted greatly by losing World War Two).  That’s fine—we all feel good performing charitable acts, especially if they help friends get on their feet.

But much of Europe’s economic growth was also helped along by not having to pay much for its own defense during the Soviet years.  The U.S. provide that defense for the most part.  It’s time they started carrying more of the load.  That’s what Obama should have been saying to Merkel.  Of course, that would just add to her problems, poor thing.  And why aren’t these issues in the U.S. presidential election campaigns?


Apple losses.  After 13 years of reporting gains, Apple is finally reporting some losses.  I have no problem with that, except that the stock market reacts to Apple whatever like they do with oil whatever.  The fruity company deserves to go under—it’s arrogant, its products never play well with other products, and its support of worldwide terrorism is unconscionable.  Supposedly the losses are due to consumers’ reactions to the “new” iPhone that should have been called deja vu, not new.  They just did a tweak and called it new because Samsung was coming out with a truly new smart phone.  I’m hoping that at least part of the losses are due to the three points I mentioned.

Apple suffered another loss of a different sort.  Remember their refusal to break into the San Bernardino terrorist’s cell phone?  The FBI found hackers who did just that.  Apple wanted to know how.  The FBI opted not to tell the company.  Payback is sweet sometimes—call it the wave of the middle finger at a company that puts profits above keeping innocents safe from terrorist attacks.  Apple execs should all be in jail—I’m sure Gitmo has some room now.

Uber is stupid.  Yeah, there was a niche to fill, and present taxi service, at least in NYC, is a scam controlled by politicos and the buyers of the medallions who turn around and exploit the drivers.  But is Uber any better?  Not the way things are going.  Free pizzas aside, they’ve decided to charge more for passengers who make their drivers wait.  Before there was a five-minute grace period; they cut it to two, and will start charging about $10 if the passenger goes beyond that.


Advertising on my website…

Thursday, April 28th, 2016

Visitors to my website might have noted that I don’t advertise anything beyond my books here.  It’s an author’s website, after all, not The Huffington Post or Forbes.  You won’t see pop-up ads.  In fact, I hope to remove those annoying “Buy Now” buttons in a future upgrade to the website.  The interested reader will be able to click on the cover and go to the Amazon book page, I hope.  Otherwise, I’ll change “Buy Now” to “Amazon Page” or something less annoying than “Buy Now.”

As the number of real visits (not just random hits) to the website has increased, so has the number of people asking to advertise on the site.  Some of these requests are tempting because (1) the services or products sound like something I could endorse, (2) visitors to the site might be interested in them, and (3) it might bring me some badly needed funds so I can produce the next book.  My business model has always been a version of “crowd funding” (today’s parlance—I’ve been using it since day one): reinvest royalties accrued from past books into producing the next one, with hopefully enough left over to pay for website maintenance and upgrades.

But I’ve resisted the temptation of going the ad route.  I’ve always been nice about declining offers, saying something like, “Your product (or service) sounds interesting, but it’s against my policy to accept advertisements.”  Maybe that’s stupid, but that’s my policy.  Nevertheless, as I cruised around my usual social media sites last weekend, I asked myself, “Steve, what kind of ads would you accept if you did?”  The short answer is: not many.  But then I wouldn’t have a blog post, would I, if I left it at that?